Dick WhittingtonĀ 


The Opera House, Manchester 
Written by Alan McHugh with additional material by The Krankies

Directed by Michael Gyngell

This Qdos Entertainment production of Dick Whittington certainly delivers as a visually spectacular festive theatre trip. It takes traditional panto and gives it a huge 21st century makeover. Dick first appears when launched on stage in a jetpack and there are 3D special effects and mind blowing visual creations from The Twins FX. 

This is still bright, loud and colourful pantomime but the narrative is more sound bites than traditional storytelling. It keeps many of the traditional characters but ditches the panto dame and OTT costumes for a hybrid Principal Boy/Panto Dame in the form of John Barrowman in the tightest velvet trousers and skimpiest white shorts. This Dick is possibly more focused on maintaining his reputation as the biggest Dick in Panto than he is on saving London from a plague of rats!!

The other major characters this production is built around are the Seventies comedy duo The Krankies. Ian Gough as Councillor Krankie and his wife Janette Gough as his son Jimmy who reprise their famous despairing father/naughty son doubleact. This unlikely pairing with John Barrowman is incredibly successful and creates a comedy masterclass in comic timing and ad libbing. Apparently Barrowman will only do Panto if The Krankies are on the bill and this is their seventh successful appearance together. They are quite simply a joy to watch, as the on stage chemistry particularly with Barrowman and Janette Gough is achingly funny. The banter often feels genuinely unscripted and frequently veers from naughty to positively blue- this is a trio singing from the same rather smutty songsheet. 

The other main characters are all strong performances with Jacqueline Hughes delivering a delightful The Spirit of Bow  Bells and Lauren Hampton as  a sweet and winsome Alice. Phil Corbitt is a suitably nasty villain as King Rat and provides lots traditional boos and hisses. Sadly the rest of the cast are underused and although we have Ryan Kayode as a Manchester/Cheshire cat complete with local accent we don’t see enough of Dick’s famous sidekick. 

A lot of the audience are here for Panto at Christmas but this is very much a vehicle for John Barrowman with lots of references to iconic shows such as Dr Who and Arrow. In the ghost scene he even wears a cheeky skimpy onesie that’s clearly inspired by The Tardis. This combined with numerous references to his sexuality mean that it is impossible to ever fully suspend reality and simply see Dick Whittington on stage.

There are lots of catchy songs delivered with loads of energy. Barrowman baritone voice is unsurprisingly excellent throughout while Janette Gough singing is unsurprisingly awful throughout and well used for comic effect. Her turn as MacDonna in conical bra and G string may be the oddest thing I’ve ever seen on stage but the goodwill she creates makes it strangely acceptable.

The special effects are high impact and give this show an added memorable dimension. The 3D underwater scene was genuinely scary  and exciting. The big events in each Act were thrilling for all ages. Rudolph and his sleigh fly out over the audience and turn upside down with Dick seemingly inches from the audience in the stalls. Later we see Wee Jimmy in the mouth of a gigantic shark shooting out over the stage and into the audience.

There are lots of panto positives in this production. The underwater version of The Twelve Days of Christmas is pure silliness and includes lots of super soaker action  aimed at the audience. The costumes for the dancers are extravagant and sometimes really beautiful such as in the winter scene. However there are also points where this panto veets off being family friendly fun and dips into gasp-out- loud smuttiness. I’m sure some of this will go right past the younger audience but for older children there may be awkward q&a’s for red faced parents.

At OPERA HOUSE until Sunday Jan 7th 2018

Dick Whittington


OLDHAM COLISEUM
By Fine Time Fontayne and Kevin Shaw 

Directed by Kevin Shaw 

Saturday night at the pantomime in Oldham with three anime loving teenagers fresh from a day at the Japanese Doki Doki Festival. What could possibly go wrong?? Well nothing apparently. Despite my concerns everyone loved it and my own initial wariness disappeared in a wave of nostalgia and general goodwill to all.

This is pantomime at its traditional best with no fancy hi tech bells and whistles. The only bell here being the one swung by the marvellous panto grand dame Saucy Sarah Suet played with warmth and wit by Fine Time Fontayne. The whole cast are enthusiastic and the energy on stage never wanes. There are some especially strong assured performances most notably Fine Time Fontayne as Sarah and Richard J Fletcher as her son Silly Billy Suet. The Rat King has Simeon Truby who is excellent as the perfect pantomime villain. His pastiche of Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell is inspired and very funny.

The set by Celia Perkins is just lovely. All painted scenes rolling back like the beautifully illustrated pages of a children’s story book. There are lots of witty little signs and references included to keep the grown ups amused too. 

The wardrobe department have produced some bright and cheery costumes to compliment the set. The outrageous dame costumes succeed with a the obligatory pantomime wow factor. The generous bottoms on several costumes seem to be modelled on the famous rear of Kim Kardashian!!

The song and dance numbers mix the old and the new to good effect. The chorus of local children on stage dancing look like they are having a ball. Other children from the audience are brought on stage by Saucy Sarah and Billy Suet  to help out with one of the songs.  The banter and interaction with the audience feels genuine and warm rather than staged. Family groups are welcomed by name and the atmosphere in the theatre is relaxed and happy. The family next to us share our pleasure as their small boy waves his light up sword at The Rat King and whole heartedly joins in during the ghost scene. That little boys delight and enthusiasm is shared by my son’s girlfriend who is delighting in revisiting where she first saw Pantomime on  primary school trips. 

Overall Dick Whittington was an unexpected hit for a slightly unconventional family. With 80 performances aiming to entertain about 40,000 people it looks like Oldham Coliseum have paved the streets of Oldham with gold and big smiles.

11 Nov – 13 January at OLDHAM COLISEUM